Nathan’s review of City in the Dragon’s Eye by James Loyal Short
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this book is it’s an absolute blast of a reading experience. This book is pure, unadulterated fantasy fun and it has been a while since I have purely enjoyed burning through a book like this. This book is the epic fantasy or swords and sorcery equivelent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe at its best – you can crack it open after a long day and just lose yourself in some zany adventuring in a world that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This book is perfect for fans of The Kings of Wyld or the works of Sebastien de Castell. It’s goofy, but brimming with heart and a well-realized secondary fantasy world.
City in the Dragon’s Eye follows three main POV characters. Viktor is a former soldier who has a magical form of cancer that is quite literally turning him into a dragon. Devin is the son of a wealthy noble who has been essentially disinherited, and now must save his love from bad people who got entangled with. Izola is an academic, researching the forgotton and nefarious history of the nation.
Each of the three main POV characters come to life on the page in their own ways. I think it’s sometimes common in humerous fantasies for everyone to sound exactly the same; everyone kind of becomes a generic joke machine that lose their own individual lustre a bit. That doesn’t happen here! Viktor is a bit of an Indiana Jones inspired figure, someone who keeps finding themselves in the most inconvienent circumstances, often outside of his own doing. Devin is a noble trying to survive in a non-noble’s world…and quickly finds out that this education and intelligence don’t always equate to street smarts. and Izola is the closest thing the book has to a comedic “straight person”; she is navigating the very tricky water of academia and academic freedom. It is quite clear from the start that Viktor is the main character here. He gets the most POV time and best character development, and I would have liked a bit more of that for the other characters, especially Izola. We get her more immediate concerns as she academically battles her ex-husband, but I would have liked to know more about her and what exactly made her “tick”. Of course we always have more books in the series to make that happen!
I want to point out that one of the only things that did strike me a bit weird was some of how Devin was characterized. His “dandiness” or “foppishness”, as the author and other reviewers have called hiim, is most directly coming from his noble upbringing. When the book focused on those aspects, I was all in and laughing along at the class-based humor. However, Devin is also a gay man and at times it did feel a bit like the author was poking fun at the more, shall we say feminine, stereotypes of gay men. I don’t think this was intentional by the author at all, but it was something that kept jumping out at me. (I will say, despte that, I absolutely relished whenever we got back to a Devin chapter because his storyline crackled the most for me!).
I think a lot of this comes down to the fact that humor is always going to be subjective. I was on board with most of the humor in the book; it was delightfully and cleverly juvenile. Were there some jokes that didn’t land? Yeah. Some parts felt a bit awkward or made me groan. But the jokes come so quickly that you can just slide right on by the bad ones and keep on with the adventure.
The humor in the book also really worked for me because it was an ingriedent that made the book work, but didn’t wholly consume the narrative. There is an actual plot with real emotional stakes here. The worldbuilding is deep and the magic system is a lot of fun to explore (and the author leaves a lot of the magic system to be revealed in future books as well). Even if you take out the dick jokes (and there are several!) this is a well-constructed fantasy adventure that is worth your time.
Ultimately your enjoyment of this book is going to depend on your sense of humor, but more importantly the expectations you have going into this book. The cover design kind of gives “serious epic historical fantasy” vibes, the book isn’t quite that. It is instead a rollicking good time with lots of laughs and awkward situations the characters have to navigate themselves out of. Don’t go looking for your next grimdark read here; lots of dark things happen and important characters do die, but the book just keeps on flying and doesn’t really dwell on the emotional ramifications of a lot of these things. In many other books I would criticize this, but I had such a good time here it didn’t bother me in the least.
If you are looking for a good, breezy time with a fantasy adventure – an adventure that takes you into academic thesis defenses, the underground economy, and mysterious magical ruins, plus more – this is absolutely the book for you. If you want a bit mroe fun and comedy in your fantasy reading, but don’t want something that is a straight up comedy or satire, consider this as your next read. You’ll want to be ready whenever the sequel gets published!
Concluding Thoughts: A fun fantasy adventure peferfect for fans of Eames and de Castell, City in the Dragon’s Eye is a fantasy adventure you will want to jump in on. With three wonderful POV characters anchoring it, this book has everything a breezy fantasy book should – magic, awkward situations, Indiana Jones style adventuring, penis jokes, and more. This is a book that you will absolutely rip through as Short keeps you on your toes, intigued by the world, and laughing all of the way through it. I highly recommend this book and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel for when I just need to have fun again!